It was all a dream? He was actually his father? We were on planet earth all along? Plot twists have a long-storied history in film, and for a good reason. What’s more fun than being completely surprised by a twist in a movie? As fun as a good plot twist is, we all know the opposite experience as well, where we’re able to see the twist coming a mile away. So how do you write a strong plot twist of your own? Here are some tips to help you write unexpected and unforgettable plot twists into your screenplay!
Tip 1 for Writing a Plot Twist: Plan, Plan, Plan
I can’t emphasize enough how much pre-writing and planning things out early on can help your writing in general, but it really helps when you have a complicated or twisty plot. Planning out your story with a simple beat sheet or a lengthier outline can help you to know precisely where the twist will happen, and then you’ll have a better idea of how to build up to it. Knowing and understanding what’s going to happen before you even sit down to write can help to make a more solid, well-executed twist in your script. You don’t want the audience to be so taken aback by your twist that they don’t feel it’s believable, and planning can help avoid that.
Tip 2 for Writing a Plot Twist: Be Aware of What’s Expected
Audiences today expect twists and work to figure them out before they happen. So, what do you do when your audience is savvy, but you want to surprise them? Look at past well-known twists in movies and think about how they feel, why do they work? Dive genre-specific, and examine what kind of twists occur within the genre you’re working in. When you’re familiar with the common practices of a genre, then you can work outside of them and figure out a way to subvert audience expectations. Going against the grain in terms of what one would expect from a movie of that type can lead to interesting and exciting new developments and twists in your script!
Tip 3 for Writing a Plot Twist: Everything Has Its Place
In terms of the structure of your script, it’s important to think long and hard about where your plot twists occur. A plot twist can happen early on, around the end of your first act. It likely won’t be a huge twist, but a twist that sets up things to come.
Most commonly, a plot twist occurs in the third act. The payoff and release of tension are usually big here, as we’ve spent the movie working up to it, and then we can have a climax of some sort and wind the action down.
A plot twist can even occur at the end of a script to set up another chapter of the story. “Avengers Infinity War” ends with half of the main characters turning to dust, a shocking twist that left audiences dying to see what happens in the next film.
Considering where to put the twist is crucial because it can determine the size of the twist and what the action looks like following it.
Tip 4 for Writing a Plot Twist: Throw It In Reverse
A lot of plot twists come down to reversals. Reversals of what we know to be true. There can be a reversal of identity. In “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” we initially know Darth Vader just to be this mysterious bad guy, but then we find out that he’s Luke’s father. This is a big twist on the identity of a character we thought we knew.
There can be a reversal of how we perceive things, for example, in “Sixth Sense.” We go through the movie, believing Bruce Willis’ character is a therapist helping this little boy who sees ghosts, only to find out he’s a ghost himself, and it changes our whole perception of the movie.
Thinking in terms of reversing the known can be a good starting place to develop a twist in your script.
Plot twists are fun, but they require laying a lot of groundwork for you to pull them off successfully. Hopefully, these tips can help you to develop plot twists in your screenplay that are believable as well as surprising. Happy writing!